HENRYVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- Deadly tornadoes cut a path of destruction across southern Indiana six years ago today. People lost lives, their homes, their jobs -- and 11 people lost their lives on that unforgettable day: March 2, 2012.
Henryville took the hardest hit. Winds clocked at 170 miles an hour toppled houses, flattened entire buildings, shredded a school, and tossed a school bus across the town's busiest street.
"That's probably as close as you're going to come to dying without dying," Nick Shelton said.
Shelton survived the storm huddled beneath a restaurant where the school bus landed. Six years later, he can still picture the damage he saw as he climbed out of the basement.
"There was nothing here but debris, and it was pretty devastating," Shelton said. "There were cars thrown all over the place, and telephone poles on top of the rest of the cars. It was a mess."
The tornado demolished his auto service business, which was right next door to where the bus landed. Shelton says rebuilding seemed impossible, but Henryville was resilient.
Budroes Bus Stop Restaurant reopened, and one-by-one, neighbors started to rebuild. Hundreds poured into the community with donations, and to assist in the cleanup effort.
"We've got a great little community, everybody tries to help everybody," Shelton said.
Even though it took more than a year, Shelton also got back in business in the same spot -- but this time in a cement building to better withstand any future storms.
"That's a big thing, never give up."
That same lesson of perseverance is being carried on by the former principals of Henryville Elementary and the Middle/High School, Troy Albert and John Reed. Albert told WDRB they're both traveling to Texas next week for training to become "FEMA mentors."
In this role they will travel across the country after natural disasters to work specifically with school leaders on how to respond to the crises.
The March 2 tornado obliterated the Henryville school campus. Security footage captured walls collapsing under the fierce wind but Reed and Albert helped manage a rebuilding process that saw the school reopen just five months after the storm.
After cutting through Henryville, the twister spawned into two and churned toward the Clark-Scott county border.
"They just come this way and everything in its path left," said Steve Boley, who lives near the corner of Nabb New Washington and Nabb Marysville Road. "All the houses and buildings and barns, everything down through here...when it went by, it just cleaned out everything."
Boley says the two tornadoes again formed into one and he watched as long as he could, then ran to the garage and hid in his truck. That turned out to be a wise move because his home, like many others, ended up in middle of the road.
He says the tornado swallowed up his small town.
"There's a lot of people not in Marysville now that used to be there. There's one farm over here you can't even tell there was ever anything there. I mean it took everything. I just try to forget it."
The tornado was deadliest in the small town of New Pekin, Indiana, where ferocious winds stripped trees bare, snapped power lines like twigs and reduced houses to rubble.
Jaela Flores says she will never forget. She was just 16 and living in New Pekin when the tornado roared into her town.
"I was on the phone with (my sister) Moria, as we were driving, and then the phone just cut off," she said. Flores rushed over to find out what happened. The news wasn't good. Moria Babcock, her husband, Joseph, and all three of their small children died.
The storm ripped the Babcock's home right off of its foundation and scattered all five of their bodies in a field.
Now, even six years later, you can still see the destruction as the twisted metal from part of the mobile home sits on the ground near a cross, like a constant reminder in New Pekin of the lives lost.
Flores has since married and moved to New Albany, but says she visits the memorial once a week.
"I just sit there, I don't know, wonder what life would have been with them here," Flores said.
New Pekin found a way to move forward last year.
A few miles up the road, the Eastern High School girls basketball team won a state championship. It's the first for any sport, at any school, anywhere in Washington County, and it happened to fall in the same week as the tornadoes' anniversary.
The tornado that touched down on March 2, 2012, was just the beginning of the storm in Louella Aker's life. Her Henryville home had suffered only minor damage, so she went to work helping her neighbors.
"It was like another job for me," Aker said.
But somewhere in the cleanup, her body began to break down and she would later slip into a coma with an infection.
"They came and gave me last rites, and told my kids and my brother that I had a 12 percent chance of living," Aker said.
The infection forced doctors to amputate both hands and her legs below the knee. Even so she is not bitter.
"Some people say, 'aren't you mad, don't you say, 'Why'd this happen to me?'" Aker said. "I pushed myself every day to to do as much as I could, and then a little bit more."
Aker became Kentucky's first double hand transplant recipient, again showing that resilient nature that seems inherent in people who survived the storm.
"I felt like I have got to pick myself up, look at this imaginary list I had in my head of things I had to do: learn to walk again, get a place I can get around in easily."
Six years ago, tornadoes stole so much from southern Indiana communities. In total, the EF 4 twister spun the ground for about 50 miles, injuring hundreds, killing 11 and costing millions in damage.
But through it all, stories of strength, courage and hope have emerged, proving even the worst storms in life will pass.
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